Attending academic talks is one of the many opportunities extended to students in Advanced Placement United States History (affectionately known as APUSH) at Mt. Lebanon High School. After all, who can share a scholar’s ideas better than the scholar herself? But now, APUSH students can lead scholarly dialogues of their own.
Pete DiNardo, a member of the high school’s social studies department and a resident of Mission Drive, is the long-time APUSH instructor. For years, students’ studies culminated in a substantial research paper. Feedback from previous classes indicated that students want more from their work than a letter grade.
DiNardo decided to change the structure of the course: students would complete cumulative projects to be presented at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library in the spring. DiNardo says that there was a natural connection between the library and his students’ work, since the library’s plan is to become more research-oriented.
This year, students chose from four options for their cumulative projects: writing the traditional research paper, filming a documentary, crafting and leading a history lesson, or writing a synthesized book review.
Abby Xie of Rock Haven Lane is a high school senior who took APUSH last year. She opted for creativity when choosing her final project. Xie and two of her friends and classmates, Darren Samuels of Old Hickory Road and Annalise Tolley of Rosbury Place, chose to film a documentary about the 1970 Kent State shootings, where members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a group of unarmed student protestors, killing four and wounding nine.
DiNardo required that each documentary feature five interviews. Xie and her group contacted five of the shooting’s survivors who she says were “directly involved” with the event either as students or injured protesters. She and her group interviewed four survivors on the Kent State campus and a fifth, who was unable to meet at the university, over the phone. The personal connections helped the documentary really capture the experience.
After months of diligent work, the presentation series, entitled “Conflict and Conformity Amid the Cold War: Expressions of American Identity From 1954-1989,” began in late April. The series comprised 18 sessions spread across a number of weeks. DiNardo organized the presentations thematically and combined multiple project formats in each session. He estimates approximately 675 people attended the series in total.
Xie and her group hope their film gave people perspective on the shooting and its aftermath. DiNardo plans to take one film and one research paper panel to present at the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies conference in Harrisburg in October. He also is working to enter several of his students’ documentaries in a local film festival.
DiNardo was pleased with the success of this new format and plans to continue it in the future. He likes this structure because it gives parents the opportunity to see their children perform in an academic setting, similar to watching a sporting event or attending the high school musical. DiNardo says he enjoyed the opportunity to witness “such personal beauty and growth happen” from the project’s assignment to completion. He says he has been invigorated with everyone and misses attending the presentations, although he jokes his wife doesn’t. While he could not give us links to the films due to copyright issues, he is willing to schedule a viewing at the library if he has enough interest at: firstname.lastname@example.org.